Mactaquac rebuild threatens salmon population

Sat., Jan. 21, 2017 - page A11

Mactaquac rebuild threatens salmon population


Last spring, well into NB Power’s consultations on the future of the Mactaquac Generating Station and dam, the utility added a fourth option to its mix of choices. It was now possible to refurbish the facility and extend its life to 2068.

In December, it came as no surprise this was NB Power’s decision.

If the “life achievement” option had not surfaced, removing the dam would have been the best choice according to NB Power’s financial analysis and public surveys. Free flow is the cheapest of the original options, and best for the environment.

Keeping the Mactaquac dam for at least 50 more years could be the final blow for St. John River Atlantic salmon and other migratory fish species. NB Power has promised up to $100 million to improve fish passage as part of the refurbishment, but the details are largely unknown.

Better structures for fish to get by the dam will not fix the head pond. Studies done for NB Power show juvenile Atlantic salmon headed to sea become lost and delayed in the 100-kilometre dead water. Many miss the small window for survival on the other side of the dam.

For a decade after Mactaquac was built, Atlantic salmon runs hung on. In 1982, 27,000 fish were counted at the dam. In 2015 less than 1,000 showed up and the population is being considered for endangered species status.

There are other factors at play, but the dam is one we can control.

Regulators should require NB Power to test and prove its methods for better fish passage before starting any refurbishment work. If real improvements can’t be ensured, the utility should reconsider its plans.

Also, as more information about the refurbishment becomes available, NB Power should not forge ahead if costs will be significantly higher than predicted. Instead, the options should be weighed again.

The best decision for the river environment could still be cheapest for ratepayers.

Recently Premier Brian Gallant announced the Petitcodiac Causeway in Moncton would be replaced with a bridge. “Decades ago some mistakes were made,”said the premier.“As New Brunswickers, when we make a mistake, we fix it.”

Mactaquac was a mistake made in the 1960s. We have one chance in our lifetime to make it better, with serious improvements to fish passage or by restoring free flow.

The refurbishment plan still requires approval from provincial cabinet and the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board. We hope fixing the situation for migratory fish in the St. John River will be a condition for this project to proceed.


In this undated photo, anglers line a salmon pool at Hartland, near the mouth of Becaguimec Stream on the St. John River. The river and its tributaries were once international destinations for anglers.